God, Spies and Lies: How journalists and politicians fought South Africa’s war of ideas, 1800-2015

In the light of the political impasse gripping the country, this study investigates the ideas that made democratic South Africa, through the largely unexplored interaction between its journalists and politicians.

The uneasy relationships between journalists and politicians, and their impact on the development of both ideas and government policy are significant in most dynamic modern societies, but in South Africa it has a history of special intricacy.

From the first Cape newspaper, a monopoly awarded by a corrupt British governor to a firm of slave-traders, to the establishment of press freedom by men of the Scottish Enlightenment, the first isiXhosa missionary newspaper in the 1830s and the rapid spread of Dutch and English papers, the nineteenth century ended with Cecil Rhodes using his secret financing of English, Dutch and isiXhosa newspapers to promote war against the Boer republics.

In the twentieth century this battle of ideas impacted both the democratic constitution and subsequent conflict over media freedom. The different intellectual influences of Nelson Mandela and his successor, President Thabo Mbeki, have left an unresolved legacy for today’s citizens.

Project leader(s):
  • John Matisonn (Journalist, analyst and writer)

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